Despite the size and breadth of the Mickelson Trail, there's really only so much room left for the Black Hills' hottest marathon to grow.
Race director Emily Wheeler and her team may find out this weekend what the upper bounds of registration are, as she capped the entry list for this Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon at roughly 3,200. That number breaks the mark of just over 3,000 set in last year's 10th edition of the 26.2-mile race that begins at 8 a.m. Sunday.
The reason for the limit, Wheeler said, is that the feedback from racers has been that the Northern Hills race remains one of the most intimate and personal experience distance runners have during their seasons.
That personal, friendly experience focused on individual attention is a reputation that Wheeler wants to keep.
"We definitely have a niche. People running our course who come from across the United States say it's one of the most beautiful courses they run," Wheeler said. "And our volunteers are great. The organization is great. ... One of the things we're known best for is the personal service. There aren't too many races where you can call up the race director and get your questions answered right away. But you can with us.
"My number is on the website, and people appreciate that friendliness."
Wheeler said the biggest spike in entries over the past couple of years has been in the women's half-marathon. Females now make up more than 60 percent of the overall entry field for all races, Wheeler said, which is a new percentage high for either gender in the race's 11-year history.
Full marathons (both individual and in team format), half-marathons, and a children's 5K encompass two days of events, with the Lodge as the marathon's epicenter.
Although much of the race's weekend setup remains the same from in past years - the finish near the Sherman Street parking lot in Deadwood is unchanged - one element of race preparation that is significantly different for Wheeler is the marketing. At least a half-dozen magazines or fitness journals have contacted Wheeler about special features or details regarding the race.
That's certainly a welcome change for Wheeler, who runs other races such as the Run Crazy Horse series.
"South Dakota Tourism has even been working with us to become a part of their tourism magazine," Wheeler said. "So the opportunities are finally starting to come to me."
The one element of the weekend out of Wheeler's control is the weather, but current forecasts call for mostly sunny skies with a high in the mid-70s and only the slightest chance of rain. The ideal temperature for the race, Wheeler said, would be around 65 degrees down the stretch, but there's little to complain about after the past couple of lead-ups to the marathon.
"You know, we've had extremes. The past two years, it's been extremely hot," she said. "Last year, it was cold, cold, cold until race day. So we're just looking forward to a pleasant day this weekend."
Courtesy of: Danny Lawhon, Rapid City Journal